Out of the Ashes: New homes and new hope for villagers in Eastern Kosovo
|Ali Fejzullah and his young son in front of their reconstructed home in Keqekolle (Photo: Jennifer Sime/IRC)|
Travelling through the windy mountain roads of Eastern Pristina it is difficult to believe that I am only 20 kilometers outside the thriving capital of Kosovo. Everything here is more extreme - the beauty of the landscape, the wind, the poverty, and the ravages of war. Unlike Pristina, which escaped relatively unscathed, most of the towns located to the east of the capital suffered major damage to their homes, schools and other buildings as a consequence of the conflict between the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Yugoslav Army in 1999.
In June 1999, hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees, many of whom had fled to Albania and Macedonia during the NATO bombing campaign, returned to their homes. Over 400 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) provided assistance to the returnees. Rehabilitating the homes that had been destroyed during the war became the focus for Kosovars, donors and humanitarian agencies alike. However, despite the massive efforts by the international community to respond to the post-conflict housing crisis, many remote areas did not receive outside assistance. Through the winter many families were forced to live in tents, which, although designed for cold temperatures, proved insufficient shelter against the extreme cold of winter in the Kosovo mountains. By the following autumn, many of these families faced a second winter in tents that were worn and damaged through continuous use.
In October 2000, with funds provided from the UK Department for International Development, IRC began a project to rehabilitate 25 homes belonging to some of the most destitute families in the villages of Marec, Prapashticë, Keqekollë, Mramor, Nishec, Dabishec and Koliq in eastern Pristina.
It is in the village of Mramor, on a blustery December day, that I visited the home of Igballa Gashi. Igballa and her five children left the village of Mramor during the war while her husband stayed behind to help defend the village. She spent five weeks hiding in the woods near her village, while her house in Mramor burnt down. Igballa and her children subsequently made it on foot to Pristina, and were able to find refuge with a family member. On June 7, 1999 when peacekeeping troops entered Pristina, Igballa returned with her children to her village, where she learned of her husband’s death. For 15 months following the end of the conflict, the Gashi’s lived in the remnants of their burnt house, surviving on an income of $85 a month brought in by their eldest son. Now however, following the IRC’s rehabilitation project, the Gashi’s have a home again. When I ask her what her new home means to her and her family, she cannot speak but the look of relief and gratitude on her face speaks for itself.
Despite the progress that has been made over the last eighteen months, there are still many families without a home. Often, these are the most vulnerable families, whose entire houses have been destroyed, and who have been excluded from receiving support from shelter programmes in Kosovo, due to the expense involved in reconstructing their house. It is these families and individuals who lack the skills, ability, know-how and funds to rebuild their own homes, that the IRC programme is targetting. The IRC is working towards ensuring that the widows, the elderly, the disabled and families such as the Gashis’ do not have to suffer another winter in freezing conditions.
Jennifer Sime is the former Deputy Director of the IRC in Kosovo.